USD in a lose-lose situation, AUD caution

News that Moody’s Investor service cut the debt ratings on six European countries while revising its outlook on the UK’s and France’s AAA rating to “negative” dampened sentiment for the EUR. Markets will likely trade cautiously ahead of tomorrow’s meeting of European Union Finance Ministers especially as it appears that at least Germany and Netherlands remain sceptical of Greece’s austerity plans, which could frustrate the approval of a second EUR 130 billion bailout package.

The USD is firmer overnight but still struggling to make headway in an environment of improving risk appetite. The fact that USD speculative positioning has dropped sharply to its lowest level since September last year highlights a major shift in USD sentiment. The USD is currently in a lose-lose situation helped neither by economic data or risk appetite. For example a healthy gain in January retail sales expected today, will help to boost risk appetite which in turn will help maintain pressure on the USD.

Encouragingly for the USD, 2 year bond yields have been rising since the start of February in line with firmer economic data. However, rather than giving the USD a boost (except vs. JPY) it has been outweighed by the fact that bond yields elsewhere have risen even more aggressively. The net result is that the prospects for the USD to strengthen further look somewhat restrained over the short term.

AUD has benefited from a firmer tone to risk appetite at the start of the week but for a currency in which speculative positioning is fast approaching all time highs I would be cautious of adding to long positions at current levels. Remaining one of the most sensitive currencies to gyrations in risk appetite the AUD will continue to be mainly driven by global events especially the Greek saga.

Nonetheless, there a few data releases at home that will capture market attention, in particular the January jobs report on Thursday. After a surprisingly large 29.3k fall in December a bounce is expected in January, with around a 15k increase likely. The report will provide clues to just how long the RBA will pause in its rate cutting cycle. I suspect that even a positive outcome will have a briefly positive impact on AUD, with the currency set to struggle to break above resistance around its 2012 high at 1.0845 versus USD.

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